Dominating the small village of St-Nectaire-le-Haut in the Auvergne region of southern France, Saint-Nectaire Church dates from the 12th century. It contains a fine set of Romanesque capitals and a treasury of medieval art.
History of Saint-Nectaire Church
The hill on which the church stands, Mont-Cornadore, was settled in prehistoric times and later colonized by the Romans, who built public baths in the town. St-Nectaire-le-Bas, the lower part of the town, is still home to a popular spa.
The church is named for St. Nectaire, a missionary who is said to have arrived in the Auvergne with St. Austremoine in the fourth century. There is little record of this early period of history, but it seems Nectaire's relics attracted pilgrims and a church was built here at an early date.
What is better know is that in the mid-12th century, Guillaume VII, Count of Auvergne, donated this land to the monks of La Chaise-Dieu, a nearby Benedictine monastery. The monks built a priory here, including the present church, shortly thereafter.
Sadly, the Church of St. Nectaire was badly damaged during the French Revolution and its restoration in the 19th century was not entirely faithful to the original. Nevertheless, much of the original architecture and art remains intact. Significant restoration work was undertaken in the nave in 2008.
What to See at Saint-Nectaire Church
Located on high ground and surrounded by lush forests, the stately church of Saint-Nectaire towers over the small village of St-Nectaire-le-Haut. Its situation is somewhat less attractive from close-up, as it is now surrounded by a small lawn and paved parking lot.
The church is constructed of local trachyte stone in various shades of grey, arranged in attractive patterns. On the apse, the stone is cut into a fine inlaid pattern of stars inside circles. Similar decorations can be seen on each end of the transept.
The church's highest point is the octagonal crossing tower, topped with a pyramid-shaped roof. This dates from the 19th century, as do the twin square towers on the west facade. From the east, there is a fine view of the flat "lantern" transept, the semicircular apse with inlaid stars, three radiating chapels, and an apsidal chapel on each transept arm. Overall, it is a striking and impressive sight.
The interior is an attractive space with many details of interest. The nave is supported by round columns with carved capitals, some retaining traces of original paint. Among the subjects depicted on the capitals are the Temptation of Christ; Moses being saved from crocodile-infested water by Pharaoh's daugher; a donkey playing a lyre and a man riding a goat; and St. Baudime slaying a wild bear.
At the back of the nave is the original narthex, the only one to survive in the region, which has a tall upper gallery. The end walls of each transept have an unusual feature: a triangular arch between two rounded arches, representing the Trinity.
St. Nectaire houses an excellent treasury of medieval religious art, which includes the following objects:
The artistic highlight of the interior for most, however, is the set of six capitals in the choir. Dating from the 12th century like the rest of the church, they are richly carved with biblical and legendary scenes in a charmingly naive style. Much of the original paint remains. Their subjects are as follows:
There are more capitals on the engaged columns of the ambulatory, most of which depict monsters and hybrid creatures among foliage. There is also a miser being tortured by demons; shepherds carrying lambs; and, on the north side, Zachaeus climbing a tree to hear Jesus.
Quick Facts on Saint-Nectaire Church
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|Coordinates:||45.588258° N, 2.992294° E|
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- Personal visit (June 13, 2008).
- Peter Strafford, Romanesque Churches of France: A Traveller's Guide (London: Giles de la Mare, 2005), 192-94.
- Photos of Saint-Nectaire Church - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Saint-Nectaire Church
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